‘A trade war’ threatens Brexit deal, says EU’s Varadkar

Image copyright PA Image caption The British government still must win the backing of MPs for any Brexit deal. The British government risks a trade war with the European Union if it goes ahead…

Image copyright PA Image caption The British government still must win the backing of MPs for any Brexit deal.

The British government risks a trade war with the European Union if it goes ahead with a “backstop” plan to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland, according to a senior EU figure.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the European Commission wanted a firm commitment from the UK government to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

He spoke after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he believed an EU-UK trade deal could be done to avoid “maximum facilitation”.

Under the proposal, regulations from one country would replace existing ones for the other.

However, Mr Varadkar said Ireland would not agree to any such backstop.

He added that while there was “explicit recognition that we are in a unique position”, the Irish government was still looking for guarantees that the solution “does not mean there is no border in the Irish Sea, it just means there is no physical infrastructure”.

Mr Hunt told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We could still do a trade deal with the EU and it could mean there would be no deal in the worst case scenario.”

He added: “If we come out of this without something that is legally binding, then of course there would be criticism that the Irish state is effectively being asked to have a different, inside the EU, customs arrangement.”

‘Future needs certainty’

British PM Theresa May secured backing from key ministers for her Brexit deal – which has Parliament’s approval – just last month after initially winning just five cabinet votes.

Speaking about the possibility of another election, she said: “What I believe the country needs now is, as in the past, a new mandate.”

Meanwhile, Brussels has stressed that the UK has to come to a deal with the EU on its exit from the bloc by 29 March – otherwise it will walk away.

EU head of Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said earlier this week that the EU is “committed to protecting the integrity of the internal market” and would not agree a special arrangement for Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to receive the promised “plenary” vote in the Commons on her deal and senior Conservative figures have repeatedly stated that any deal will have to pass a Tory Party leadership contest.

The key sticking point in the Brexit negotiations is the amount the UK will pay to meet outstanding commitments.

Mr Hunt said the British government was in talks with Brussels to find a “sustainable” settlement.

But, he added: “Our terms need to be consistent with UK’s obligations in all these other areas.”

From the UK side, the government is adamant that the money the UK would have to pay to the EU during a transition period following a No Deal Brexit must be a “decent” amount.

Mr Hunt said talks with the EU on the issue “haven’t really got off the ground” due to procedural obstacles.

He said: “Until it does, nothing will happen.”

Image copyright PA Image caption Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has warned that Parliament has no authority to change the PM’s deal

Commenting on the possibility of a No Deal, Brexiteer MP John Redwood said: “If you tear up the Constitution of the United Kingdom and make it a functional application, you have that in place.

“Otherwise there will be a period of uncertainty.

“There will be significant economic damage – a lot of the big manufacturing businesses would be significantly affected.”

But Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who supports a second referendum, said a No Deal would cost “hugely” and described the option as “playing Russian roulette with the whole future of the United Kingdom”.

Worst case scenario?

The BBC’s Europe Editor Mark Simpson said some EU officials were growing concerned about the worst-case scenario of a No Deal Brexit.

“The default if the deal breaks down is this: a no-deal Brexit, a lot of ships crossing the channel into the harbour of Dover, a lot of disruption and a lot of mistakes.”

Mr Hunt said the government had “14 guarantees” in the backstop plan that this would not happen – such as that if the UK was given an extension to its article 50 deadline the backstop would be for as long as it took.

The UK faces a choice between triggering Article 50 and extending it, or avoiding a No Deal Brexit and delaying it.

Responding to comments by the EU’s top Brexit negotiator on Monday that a No Deal Brexit would occur if Brexit negotiations broke down, Mr Hunt said: “What he’s saying is a No Deal is always possible.”

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